For those of us who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, Nick Ashford & Valerie Simpson wrote one of the sound tracks of our lives with Motown hits such as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,“ “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” “Your Precious Love,” “You’re All I Need to Get By,” and that feminist anthem “I’m Every Woman“ for Chaka Khan in 1978.
In 1964, while homeless, Mr. Ashford went to White Rock Baptist Church in Harlem, where he met Ms. Simpson, a 17-year-old recent high school graduate who was studying music. They began writing songs together, selling the first bunch for $64. In 1966, after Ray Charles sang “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” a song Ashford & Simpson wrote with Joey Armstead, the duo signed on with Motown as staff writers and producers.
They wrote for virtually every major act on the label, including Gladys Knight and the Pips (“Didn’t You Know You’d Have to Cry Sometime”) and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles (“Who’s Gonna Take the Blame”).
While writing for Motown, Ashford & Simpson nursed a desire to perform, which Berry Gordy Jr., the founder and patriarch of the label, discouraged. They left the label in 1973 and married in 1974.
Ashford & Simpson’s initial collaborations sold poorly, but by the late ‘70s, songs like “Don’t Cost You Nothing,” “It Seems to Hang On” and “Found a Cure” became hits on the R&B charts. Their biggest hit as a solo act was “Solid,” which reached No. 12 on the pop chart and No. 1 on the R&B chart in 1984.
They also continued to write hits for other people and later for Whitney Houston on the soundtrack to the 1992 film “The Bodyguard.”
Ashford & Simpson wrote and sang about love, not just about couples but love for your fellow human being to “make the world a better place, if you can.” Once upon a time, we really believed we could change the world – as “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand” illustrates: